Thymus pulegioides (Broad Leaf Thyme)

Thymus pulegioides, commonly called Broad Leaf Thyme, Large Thyme or Lemon Thyme, is a small, aromatic, evergreen subshrub with a spreading mounded form. It has shiny green leaves, larger than other thymes hence the name Broad-leaved, and long spikes of tiny violet-pink flowers.

It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to temperate areas of Europe.


Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT&WIDTH

Thymus pulegioides height and width

BLOOM TIME

Thymus pulegioides bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Broad Leaf Thyme scientific name

  • Botanical name: Thymus pulegioides(TY-muss  pul-eg-ee-OY-dees)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Broad Leaf Thyme, Large Thyme or Lemon Thyme
NameMeaning
ThymusThere are several versions of the origin of the name:
1- From the Greek word thymon meaning smoke or to fumigate. Related to its use as an incense for its fragrance.
2- From the Greek word thumos meaning courage. Thyme symbolised bravery.
3- From the Greek word thymos, meaning perfume. Because of its intense fragrance
pulegioidesLatin word meaning “resembling a plant that repels fleas”  (Pulex = flea, ides = resembles). Most likely, referring to the flea-repelling plant Mentha pulegium (pennyroyal), which has a similar appearance.

How to identify Thymus pulegioides

Thymus pulegioides shrub (Broad-leaved Thyme, Large Thyme)

Shrub

Small, aromatic evergreen subshrub with a spreading mound shape. It generally has upright stems and creeping stems that root in touch with the ground. It has shiny green leaves and long spikes of tiny violet-pink flowers.

The form of this plant varies widely in terms of size, leaf shape and type of inflorescence, depending on the ecological conditions such as altitude and exposure, and also according to its stage of development.

The shrub has an average height of 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in) and a width of about 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in).

Thymus pulegioides stem (Broad-leaved Thyme, Large Thyme)

Stem

The stems are upright or spreading, often untidy and sometimes sinuous

Like other thymes, the young stems are squared but become rounder and woody at the base as they age. However, a unique characteristic of this thyme is that the stems are only hairy along the edges.

They are straw-coloured and sometimes reddish, with opposite leaves at each node and tufts of smaller foliage in the leaf axils. 

Long spikes of flower heads appear on the terminal part of the stem.  

Thymus pulegioides leaf (Broad-leaved Thyme, Large Thyme)

Leaf

The leaf is strongly aromatic, green, shiny and with long hairs only at the base. In some cultivars, the leaves can be variegated

The shape is elliptic, with flat margins, marked nerves underneath and short stalks.

The size varies between 3.5 and 14.5 mm ( 0.13 and 0.57 in) long and 1.5 and 9 mm (0.05 and 0.35 in) wide.

Thymus pulegioides flower (Broad-leaved Thyme, Large Thyme)

Flower

The inflorescence has a globose or spike form and varies between 7 to 14 mm  (0.27 to 0.55 in) in diameter. It is composed of tiny flowers and leaf-like bracts in several whorls around the stem, with the lowest whorls often separated.

The flowers are violet-pink with a fused corolla. They are two-lipped; the upper lip is notched, i.e. has 2 lobes almost fused into one, and the lower lip has 3 lobes. The 4 stamens and pistil stick out from inside the corolla.

The tiny flowers open from pink buds encased in a calyx of maroon sepals.

The flowers bloom in summer.


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Differences between Thymus pulegioides and Thymus serpyllum

Board-leaved Thyme is often confused with  Breckland Thyme, but they have some noticeable differences:

Thymus pulegioidesThymus serpyllum
ShrubTaller and stems are more erectLower with stems more spreading and closer to the ground
Stems– only the edges of the stem are haired
– all stems have flowers
– Stems are hairy all over
– many flowerless stems
LeavesLeaves are widerLeaves are narrower

These two species sometimes cross-breed with each other.

Thymus pulegioides Usage

Ornamental

The Broad-leaved thyme, with its low mounding form, covered with violet-pink flowers during the flowering season, is very attractive as an ornamental plant.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. Can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens. Its spreading branches cascade over the edges of containers and raised beds.

Due to its low mounding form, is interesting for filling in spaces between stone paths or pavements. It tolerates occasional foot traffic. It is also 

They are suited for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.

Medicinal

Similar to other thymes, Thymus pulegioides has interesting applications in the medical industry.

Studies have confirmed these plants´ following activities: anti-ageing and neuroprotective , antifungal, and antibacterial.

Cosmetics

The essential oil of Broad-leaved thyme is used in producing perfumes, antiseptics, expectorants, and deodorants.

Culinary

Broad-leaved Thyme is excellent for culinary use, not only for its flavour but also because the leaves are softer than other thymes, making them easier to handle and better to use raw, for example, in salads.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried. They can be added to raw meals like salads and also used in cooked meals since they still maintain the flavour after being cooked for a long time.

Biodiversity

The flowers of this shrub are rich in nectar and very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects, which then attract other wildlife such as birds, enhancing the biodiversity of your garden.

Other uses

This thyme can be used as a homemade insect repellent. Crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin will repel annoying insects such as mosquitos.

Cultural

Thyme symbolises love and courage. The knight´s cloaks and tunics would have thyme leaves embroidered by their loved ones.

Greeks believed that thyme would bring courage and motivation and used thyme sprigs in baths and the clothes of knights before battles.

Thymus pulegioides habitat

This shrub is seen in dry rocky and sandy areas, uncultivated lands, roadsides and scrublands.  It also grows in thickets and forest clearings.

How to care for Thymus pulegioides

Cold exposure

This thyme is quite hardy, enduring frost and temperatures down to -10ºc (14ºF).

However, it will need winter protection until it is fully established. Add some mulch to protect the roots from low temperatures and the foliage from the wet soil.

Sun exposure

This plant needs full sun exposure, at least 6 hours per day.

Soil

It likes poor, well-drained to dry, stony or sandy soils. If the land is fertile, the shrub tends to become leggy, produce less essential oils and have more difficulty tolerating drought.

It thrives best in neutral and alkaline soils but can also tolerate mildly acidic ones.

Watering

Once established, Broad-leaved Thyme is drought tolerant and can go for some time without water (about 4 months if the temperature is not too hot).

During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young thyme every two to three weeks during the summer.  Allow the soil to dry out between watering. In case of a heat wave, water more frequently. Monitor your plants closely and look out for any signs of stress.

To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the Thyme (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching. 

Other Conditions

This thyme is quite robust and tolerates occasional foot traffic.

It can survive up to 2500m (8200 ft) altitude.

The best season to plant is during Autumn, so it will have all winter to develop its roots.

How to prune Thymus pulegioides

This thyme needs to be pruned a couple of times during the year to remain vigorous and beautiful.

Ideally, you should give it a prune in the spring to prevent it from becoming too woody and then another prune in late summer after flowering to encourage bushiness. Be careful to always prune above the leaf, as the stems will not regrow if it is cut back too hard.

Thyme should be harvested just before flowering when it has the highest quantity of essential oil. 

How to propagate Thymus pulegioides

This thyme can be propagated by seeds, cuttings, layering and division, but the most common methods are semi-ripe cuttings and division.

Propagation by seed

Thyme can be propagated by seed, but germination can be erratic.

Sow them in spring in a cold frame or the autumn in a greenhouse. Sow seed on the surface. Do not cover or barely cover as they need light to germinate. The seeds usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 15ºC (60ºF).

When the seedlings are strong enough to handle, you can plant them in individual pots and grow them in the greenhouse or cold frame. Gradually acclimatise them to outdoor conditions before planting in the final location after the last frosts in spring or in autumn.

When transplanting, pinch each stem’s tip to stimulate more branching to create a bushy form.

Propagation by cuttings

Thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings.

Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from mid-summer to early autumn. Take a 5 to 8 cm (2.7 to 4 in) cutting with a heel or at a node from the current year’s growth. Roots will form within a few weeks. Semi-ripe cuttings can be placed in a cold frame over winter. 

Plant them out in late spring after the last expected frosts.

Basal cuttings of young shoots can be taken in the spring. Roots will form in a frame (to maintain moisture) during the summer, and the plant will be ready to plant in the final spot in autumn.

Propagation by layering

Thyme can also be propagated by layering the branches at any time during the year. Bend the stem down, hold it to the ground with a peg or rock, and cover it with soil.

Propagation by division

After being established for a few years, it is ready to be propagated by division. It can be divided in spring or autumn. 

Dig up the plant and carefully divide it into 2 or 3 smaller sections. Each section should have a robust root structure.

The divisions with larger roots can be planted directly in their final position in the garden. 

The smaller divisions with less developed roots will first need to be potted and grown in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are strong enough to be planted in the garden.

Other Thymes you may also like

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Internet

Article from Kew

Article from Extension Gardener

Models for 3D images from gbif and PlantNet

Vol XVI from FloraIberica

Books

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood

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